Ombudsman finds senator liable for P10M ‘pork’ misuse
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Monday ordered the dismissal of Sen. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva after he was found liable for the alleged misuse of his P10-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel allocation in 2008 when he was a representative of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) party-list.
The Ombudsman directed Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd to implement the dismissal order.
Villanueva said a motion for reconsider is pending at the Office of the Ombudsman and it is up to Pimentel if he will implement the order.
The Ombudsman found Villanueva guilty of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service. The senator and several others will be charged at the Sandiganbayan with graft, malversation of public funds and malversation through falsification of public documents.
Also facing charges are former Agriculture Secretary and now Bohol third district Rep. Arthur Yap, Villanueva’s former staff Ronald Samonte, former Department of Agriculture employee Delia Ladera, former representatives of the National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor) Alan Javellana, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Rhodora Mendoza, and Maria Ninez Guanizo, and Alfredo Ronquillo, president of Aaron Foundation Philippines, Inc. (AFPI).
Investigators found that the Department of Budget and Management released P10 million on June 10, 2008 as part of Villanueva’s PDAF “for the implementation of agri-based livelihood projects in the various congressional districts in Region XI.”
On June 12, 2008, Villanueva allegedly requested Yap to release the sum to Nabcor as implementing agency with the AFPI as NGO-partner. Yap and Nabcor entered into a memorandum of agreement on June 19, 2008.
The deal involved the purchase of vegetables seedlings, liquid fertilizers and threshers from MJ Rickson Trading Corp. for the residents of Pantukan, Nabunturan, Tambongon, Bongabong, Napnapan, Mipangi, Anislagan, and Magsaysay in Compostela Valley province.
However, the Ombudsman found that these areas were not suitable for farming. It also found that not one of the alleged recipients was a registered voter or a resident in those towns.
“[L]ocal officials attested and certified that no agri-based livelihood projects were implemented by AFPI,” the ombudsman said.
Field investigators found that the supplier, which was allegedly not licensed by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority or registered with the Department of Trade and Industry, could not be located in its business address in Martiniko Street, Malabon City.
The respondents also allegedly submitted “fabricated” and undated accomplishment reports, disbursement reports, acceptance reports, and liquidation documents to support the alleged “ghost project.”
The Commission on Audit issued a notice of disallowance in August 2014 on the P10-million transaction, according to the Ombudsman.
Villanueva said his supposed signatures on the documents were forged.
Morales held that “laws and regulations were disregarded by public respondents when Villanueva directly selected Nabcor and AFPI to implement his livelihood projects and the IA [Implementing Agency] officers accepted and accommodated Villanueva by facilitating the processing and approval of the PDAF releases.”
“Nabcor officers did not even bother to conduct a due diligence audit on AFPI as to its technical and financial capability and simply accepted and relied on the representation of Villanueva and AFPI to undertake the projects in contravention of existing procurement laws,” she added.
The Ombudsman said AFPI lacked the financial capability to implement the project considering that its capital stock contribution was only P68,000.
“In a congressional pork barrel system, it is the legislator who exercises actual control and custody of the PDAF share,” Morales stressed.
Villanueva however said the case against him is old.
“This is an old case when I was a representative of CIBAC in Congress. As far as I can remember, as a minority congressman then, I did not receive that amount. In addition, the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) has already made a conclusion that the signatures on the related documents were forged. One of the documents even used a Buhay partylist letterhead, when I was representing CIBAC partylist,” Villanueva said in a statement.
“I already filed a motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman, and will leave it to the Senate President to act on the Ombudsman’s order. In any case, my faith is strong in the judicial system and in time, justice will be served,” he added.
Pimentel said the Ombudsman must act first on Villanueva’s motion for reconsideration before the Senate acts on the dismissal order against him.
“Hence, the Ombudsman must act on that first before I act on the Ombudsman’s letter to me,” he told reporters.
“Although I would follow the “better” procedure which is to refer the Ombudsman letter to the rules committee,” he added.
The rules committee in the Senate is headed by Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto 3rd.
Villanueva’s group, Cibac party-list, insisted that the senator is innocent.
Rep. Sherwin Tugna said documents bearing the name of Villanueva had the Buhay Party-List letterhead and Ronald Samonte, one of those charged, was not a staff of Cibac.
Tugna added that the NBI found that Villanueva’s signatures on the documents were forged.
“These are glaring facts that could have not warranted the finding of probable cause against Senator Joel Villanueva. We believe in the innocence of Senator Joel Villanueva,” Tugna said.
“Be that as it may, we have faith in our judicial system, particularly the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court. In the end, the truth shall prevail,” Tugna, the chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral reforms, added.